RICHLAND — A Richland High sophomore killed in a house fire over the weekend was mourned by classmates Monday and remembered as a good student who was well-liked by her peers and teachers.
Rybeca Conner, 16, was to be inducted today into Mu Alpha Theta, a national math honor society, said Ryan Rettig, Richland High assistant principal.
To be considered for the math honor society, students need to have at least three semesters of algebra, two semesters of geometry and one semester of more advanced mathematics, he explained.
"Rybeca was a solid kid who came to school every day with a positive attitude and great work ethic," Rettig said.
She also participated in the marching band's color guard and was an integral part of that group, he said.
Counselors from Educational Services District 123 and other Richland schools spent the day at Richland High to help students cope with the news of her death, which was announced at the beginning of the school day. The library was used as the grieving center.
"During the first couple hours of the day, it was pretty tough," Rettig said. "There were 10-15 kids in there at one time. ... A lot of them were kids who knew Rybeca."
Administrators also were in classes that she was in to help provide additional support for her teachers, he said.
The Benton City teen died Saturday morning when the mobile home she was in caught fire. She was believed to be sleeping. Her 12-year-old brother, who was home at the time, escaped through a window and was not hurt.
Preliminary autopsy results show she died from smoke inhalation, said Benton County Coroner John Hansens.
The autopsy was completed Monday by Dr. Karl Wigren, a forensic pathologist from Bellingham. Toxicology tests are pending, Hansens said.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation, said Kelvin Schuman, Benton Fire District 2 assistant chief.
Rybeca lived at the home at 22509 E. Badger Road, which is in a rural area outside of Benton City, with her father, James Conner, and two brothers, ages 12 and 14.
The home was destroyed and the family lost everything except the clothes they were wearing, said family friend Amber Church.
An account in James Conner's name has been established at HAPO Credit Union for donations for the family. Friends also are collecting clothes, furniture and other household goods. Anyone with donations can email Church at email@example.com.
Church said a Facebook page also is being created to keep the community updated on what's needed and fundraisers are being planned.
"This is what Rybeca would want," Church said. "She'd want everyone to be taken care of. She was very nurturing and had that motherly instinct."
Church's husband is best friends with James Conner and her family has known Rybeca for about a year.
She said the teen used to be babysit for her and had a great relationship with her 5-year-old daughter.
"It's a real big tragedy. I know James is definitely heartbroken," Church said. "... She's just one of those rare breeds -- a super, special person. ... She was going places, that's for sure."
-- Paula Horton: 509-582-1556; firstname.lastname@example.org